Events 1872

general picture of ship in distress


8 January

Following remarks made by Mr Wilson, a member of the Brigade, at the Coroner’s Inquest on bodies from the wreck of the Frisia, the Board of Trade instituted an inquiry.

The Wreck of the Frisia at the South Pier
Inquiry as to Whether the Guns Were Fired in Time

Yesterday afternoon, inquiry, instituted by the Board of Trade, was held the Town Hall, North Shields, as to whether the alarm guns were fired in time on the occasion of the wreck of the German schooner Frisia, which took place the South Pier, on Sunday, the 3rd December, 1871, whereby three lives were lost. The inquiry was held before Capt. Prowse, District Commander of the Coastguard, assisted by Mr J. F. Spence, secretary of Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade, and Mr S. Malcolm, secretary of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade.

Capt. Prowse, in opening the case, said the present inquiry was instituted to vindicate the character of Mr D. W. Quick, commander of the Coastguard, Tynemouth, Mr T. A. Wilson, of the South Shields Life Brigade, having stated, at the inquest on the bodies the seamen who were drowned, that if the signal guns had been fired sooner all the lives would have been saved.

The first witness called Capt. Nichollets, of H.M.S. Castor, who stated that on Sunday morning, the 3rd of December, whilst sitting in his house, he heard the guns fired from the Spanish Battery, and almost immediately afterwards they were repeated by the Castor. Witness at once went into his guard-room, where he could see the mouth of the river, and saw a vessel on shore at the inside of the South Pier. He could not make her out at first, but saw her by her mastheads being above the pier.

John Morrison, living in Front Street, Tynemouth, said his house overlooked the sea, and on the day in question his was drawn to the position of the schooner by his son. He then watched her, and heard the guns fired three or four minutes before she struck. If the guns had been fired sooner he did not think they would have been of any service. The weather moderate the time, he had seen boats going in and out of the harbour in more stormy weather.

James Gilbert said he was in the reading-room of the Tynemouth Pier Works, on Sunday morning, the 3rd December, when his attention was drawn by a man that a vessel was driving ashore on the staging of the South Pier. Witness ran out with number of men and saw the vessel driving towards the pier. A steamboat was towing her. After standing a few minutes, he past the Spanish Battery on his way to the lifeboat station, and saw that all the coastguards were at their station. When the first gun fired he could not positively say that the vessel had struck. It was his impression that the guns were fired about three minutes before the vessel struck, and after all the guns had been fired both the masts were still standing. The signal guns had nothing to do with the launching of the lifeboats, but they were very often useful to the lifeboatmen. It was his opinion that if the guns had been fired sooner, a number of people would have rushed to the spot where the vessel struck, and the probability is that more lives would have been lost by the falling of the masts.

William Whitelaw, Inspector of the Tyne Piers, and Captain the Tynemouth Life Brigade, saw the vessel towing out, and watched her with a glass. he saw her strike, and immediately shouted to Mr Quick, who instantly fired the guns. He believed the guns were fired within a second of the vessel striking. In witness's opinion if the guns had been fired sooner, instead of three lives being lost, there would have been a great many more, as the staging of the pier would have been crowded with people, and, as it was not very secure, might have given way under the weight, and in all probability many more lives would have been lost. His attention was more directed to the pier staging than the vessel. The damage done to the pier had not yet been estimated. In reply to a question by Capt. Prowse, the witness thought that no better arrangement could be made which would improve the signals. He could not suggest any alteration.

Joseph Wood, South Shields, a waterman in the employment of the River Tyne Commissioners, was standing on the South Pier at the foot of the staging when the schooner struck. As soon as she struck he went to assist the Life Brigade, of which he is a member, with the van containing the apparatus for saving life. Two steam-tugs had hold of her, and other two attempted to get their lines on board, but did not succeed. Before the vessel struck one of the towlines broke, but he was not sure whether the other line broke or was slipped. The guns fired as soon as he turned round to run to the van. After the guns fired the vessel continued to drift. When he got to the van, Mr Wilson told him to go on before and change the points, and he did not see Mr Wilson after that. When they got down to the vessel the masts were gone. He could not say that if the guns had been fired sooner they would have been of any service, but it was his opinion that the lives could have been easier saved by the lifeboat. The only objection he had to the signal guns was that it brought too many people to the scene of the wreck, but it was decidedly the best means they could arrange for mustering brigadesmen.

Mr Quinton, gunner of H.M.S. Castor, said he was informed that a vessel was going ashore on the South Pier, and he immediately went on deck. As soon as the vessel struck the guns were fired from the Spanish Battery, and followed by the Castor. He considered that that the guns were fired in good time.

J. G. Smith, keeper of Tynemouth lighthouse, said he remembered the morning of the 3rd December. He was standing at the gate of the lighthouse yard, and saw the vessel wrecked. The guns were fired so quickly that he could not say whether the vessel had struck or not before they were fired. The weather was squally at the time the vessel struck, and the sea was rather rough between the piers.

Thomas Pickett, coastguardsman, stationed at Tynemouth, said he fired the signal gnus the morning of the 3rd December from the Spanish Battery. Mr Quick gave him the order to fire the guns. The vessel struck as he fired the first gun. At the time the three guns were fired the mainmast had gone ever the side of the vessel. Their orders were to fire the guns as soon as any vessel (missing words) stormy weather.

William Sinclair, coastguardsman, in charge of the South Shields station, said: On the morning of the 3rd December he went off duty at seven o’clock, and told his wife that if she saw anything she was to call him. Shortly after ten o'clock he was aroused by his wife, who thought the vessel in danger, and went down to the pier When he arrived, Mr Wilson was getting the van ready to take to the wreck, and when they got partly down. Mr Wilson said "I leave you now, as you can do without me," to which Sinclair replied he might have gone sooner, as he had done nothing. The van was past the Brigade House when the guns were fired. He could not positively say whether the guns were fired before or after the vessel struck. As far as he knew the guns were fired in time. Wilson was never the wreck at all.

The inquiry was adjourned until Saturday, when it will be resumed in the Town Hall, South Shields.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 9 January 1872

The Loss of the Frisia

On Saturday afternoon, Captain Prowse, commander of the coastguard, Mr J. P. Spence, hon. sec. of the Tynemouth Life Brigade, and Mr S. M. Malcolm, hon. sec. of the South Shields Life Brigade, resumed their inquiry respecting the firing of the guns on the occasion of the wreck of the Frisia, at the Town Hall, South Shields.
Benjamin Birch, of the South Shields Life Brigade, said: While in my own house my attention was called by George Fenwick to a vessel in danger about ten or half-past ten on the morning of the 3rd December. I immediately hastened down to the pier, and found that the rocket guns were proceeding down, and were 400 yards from the Brigade House. The van was away before the guns were fired. It was a race between the falling of the mainmast and the firing of the guns. I saw three or four steamboats. I consider it would have been of service had the guns been fired sooner. I believe that the officer in charge of the guns should have a discretionary power to fire them when he considers it necessary for the saving of life, more especially in strong weather when a ship approaches the South Pier. Taking Into consideration that there were three four steam-tugs about the Frisia at the time, and the other circumstances, I consider the guns should have been fired from five to eight minutes earlier, because, if that had been done, the Brigade would have been assembled together sooner, Mr Wilson was not, on this occasion, on the pier assisting to save life. I met him when coming back to the house. My opinion is that the guns should have been fired when the tow-line broke, I do not consider that anyone is to blame for not firing the guns sooner on this occasion, and they were fired strictly in accordance with the instructions of the Board of Trade.

John Pollard, master mariner, South Shields, said: About twenty minutes past ten on the morning of Dec. 3, I went to the front window, and saw the Frisia drifting towards the South Pier, with her head NW. There were three tugs about her. I stood watching her, expecting that one the steamboats would get hold of her, and tow her out of danger. Seeing her condition, I watched her till she came in contact with the South Pier end. Then I saw her maintopmast and foretopmast go. I believe the guns fired as the ship struck. I allow a little time for the sound to travel. I then ran down the pier, and before I got two-thirds of the way down, I met Mr Wilson, who requested me to go back the Brigade House with him get it ready.

Mr T. G. Mabane, solicitor, one of the captains the Life Brigade, said: I heard the guns from house, and ran down the pier to the wreck. When a short distance from it, I met Mr Pollard and Mr Wilson returning. In going down I observed one mast fall. I think it was the foremast. I assisted to save the captain. The other men were just getting on the pier, when I got there. I of opinion that the guns must have been fired simultaneously with the striking of the ship, judging from the time I was in coming from my house. The captain of her told that this was the case. I think one officer of the station should have discretionary power in firing the guns.

Thomas Tate, a member of the Life Brigade, said: I was running down past the Brigade House and saw the mainmast go. I believe the guns fired between the falling of the mainmast and the foremast. The time from the vessel striking and the mast going would five or ten minutes. I think on an occasion like that the guns might have been fired sooner, because the vessel was driving on a lee shore, and there was nothing that could prevent her from going on the rocks. If the first tug had held on until the second tug had got hold of her the vessel might have been saved.

John Robertson said: I was on the South Pier Dec. 3rd, at 9 20, and I saw the ship, and thought the tug was too light for her, I observed her She bumped twice, and the second time the mainmast fell, and the guns went off. I am not a member of the Brigade or a seafaring man, but I think the guns might have been fired before they were.
conversation then took place the members of the Board of Inquiry and several Life Brigademen, who were present, respecting the subject of the inquiry, and it was suggested that a coastguard station should be established on the south side of the harbour, ships in danger near the South Pier could, it was affirmed, be much more easily seen from that side than from Tynemouth.

This ended the inquiry. The foregoing evidence, which was taken down, will be laid before the Board of Trade.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 15 January 1872


3 February

An accident occurred during the monthly drill.

Accident at Volunteer Life Brigade Drill at South Shields

On Saturday night, the members of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade were going through their monthly drill at the Lawe, one of their number, a seaman, named John White, residing in Coronation Street, met with a rather serious accident. He had been up the mast adjusting the gearing, but when descending unfortunately slipping his hold, and fell to the ground, a distance of ten feet. The bones of the left shoulder were fractured, but otherwise he did not sustain much hurt. His wounds were attended to by Dr Crease, who was soon on the spot, and he is now doing as well as can be expected.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 5 February 1872


7 March

The Committee had undertaken to provide protective clothing for the members as funds allowed.


TENDERS are required by the Committee of the Shields Volunteer Life Brigade for supplying 60 Pairs of BLUE PILOT CLOTH TROUSERS.

Tenders with samples of Cloth, to be sent to me not later than Noon on THURSDAY, 16th Inst.

Honorary Secretary

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 7 March 1872


21 April

The Amphitrite came ashore. The Brigade attempted to reach her with the rocket apparatus, but were not successful and the crew were rescued by the lifeboat.

27 April

Mr Rogers is best known for his invention of a life-saving rocket, but was also responsible for several other related inventions.

Experiments with Life-Preserving at South Shields

A number of experiments were made on the South Shields sands with Mr J. B. Rogers' patent projectile anchor and block apparatus for saving life from shipwreck, on Saturday afternoon. The monthly practice of the South Volunteer Life Brigade took place at the same time, and the different capabilities of the rocket apparatus and Mr Rogers' new invention were compared by experiments on the brig Amphitrite, which stranded Sunday afternoon last, and which still lies about 200 yards to the south of the South Shields Pier. With the rocket apparatus, three men were landed from the stranded vessel within 26 minutes after the first shot; and with Rogers' block apparatus, one man within 13 minutes after the first successful shot. The proceedings were watched with considerable interest by a large concourse of spectators. At the conclusion of the experiments, a meeting was held in the Brigade House—the Rev. P. A. Moore occupying the chair—at which Mr Rogers explained his newly-invented apparatus.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 29 April 1872


16 May

Further tests took place involving Mr Rogers’ invention.

Life Saving Apparatus Competition at South Shields

Yesterday evening, in consequence of an invitation from the members of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade, Mr J. B. Rogers joined them in a practice for the purpose of comparing the efficacy of his patent block apparatus for saving life from shipwreck with the usual rocket apparatus used by the brigade, and adopted by the Board of Trade. There was a large concourse of spectators. The practice took place at the Lawe, and the shots were fired over the mast erected by the brigade for practice, A company of the South Shields Life Brigade, under the command of Mr T. G. Mabane, fired the first shot, with the following results:-  From the word "action,'' to bring the first man from the mast was 13 minutes; the second man 153/4 minutes; the third man 181/2 minutes. Mr Rogers commanded a company of men from H.M.S. Castor, and his times were, from the word “action" to landing the first man, 10 minutes; second man 12 minutes; third man, 14 minutes. The practice by both systems was most excellent. After the competition Mr Rogers addressed a public meeting in the lecture hall of the Nautical College, Ocean Road, Dr Hooppell in the chair. Mr Rogers briefly explained his system, and claimed an advantage of saving time by the use his block system. In reply to an invitation from the chairman, Mr T. Mabane, after referring to a personal matter between himself and Mr Rogers, maintained that the common rocket apparatus was decidedly better than the new plan. After further conversation, the meeting separated.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 17 May 1872

23 May

As part of the Annual Inspection, the Brigade undertook a practice which only used the whips and not the hawser.

South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade

Last night, the members of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade underwent their annual inspection by Captain Robertson, R.N, at the South Pier, South Shields. After the usual drill, the volunteers went through a successful practice with the double line and tail block and the ordinary rocket. Captain Robertson, in addressing the brigade at the close of the inspection, expressed his great satisfaction the manner in which the drill had been performed.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 24 May 1872


8 June

At the launch of the “Tom Perry” lifeboat, Mrs Perry’s representative Mr Moore made a speech which included news of a donation to the Brigade.

Launch of the “Tom Perry” Lifeboat

Referring to the establishment of the Volunteer Life Brigade, Mr Moore said that Mrs Perry had not forgotten that noble institution, but had made provision for the payment through all futurity of £l2 10s annually to each of the Volunteer Life Brigades of Tynemouth and South Shields—(applause)—to be devoted for the purpose of providing refreshments.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 10 June 1872



7 August

The South Shields Swimming Club’s Annual Regatta included a race for Brigade members and pilots. “Shortly before two o'clock swimmers and other friends left the Mill Dam, South Shields, accompanied by the band of the 3rd Durham (South Shields) Artillery Volunteers, which was present kind permission of Major Stevenson, board the General Ferry Company's steamer Harry Clasper. The boat, on arriving at the scene of the competition, was moored between the wreck of the screwsteamer Eagle and the pier.”

TO BE COMPETED FOR BY MEMBERS OF THE SOUTH SHIELDS VOLUNTEER LIFE BRIGADE AND PILOTS OF SOUTH SHIELDS— Distance 300 yards. 1st Prize, Silver Tea Pot, 2nd Prize, Silver Pint, given by Mr Joseph Crisp.

Competitors—Ralph Harrison, John William Purvis, Joseph Wilson, and George Tinmouth. Considerable interest was taken this contest. The competitors all swam very swift at starting, but soon fell into a fine steady stroke. Tinmouth lead from nearly the commencement of the race , while Wilson followed second by about 15 yards, Purvis and Harrison bringing up the rear side by side for a considerable distance, about 10 yards behind Wilson. The score is as follows:-

Tinmouth                1
Wilson                    2

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 8 August 1872

11 July

The Annual Meeting took place in the Watch House.



12 October

The Board of Trade sent two of the suits to the Brigade.

Trial of a New Life-Preserver

On Saturday afternoon, a number of persons were assembled on the Long Sands Tynemouth for the purpose of witnessing the trial of a new life preserver. Mr C. S. Merriman, of New York, the inventor of the life preserver, was present, and gave practical proof of its utility. The life preserver consists of an india-rubber jacket, head dress, pantaloons, weighing altogether fourteen pounds. The dress has several air-tight compartments, and when put on and inflated sustains over 300 pounds. It is convenient to carry, and been easily folded, can be readily packed in a portmanteau. It can put on and adjusted in from two to three minutes and when on excludes the water most completely. When the dress is fully inflated the body is surrounded with a stratum of air, and lies with the utmost ease upon the elastic cushion, The non-conducting property of this layer of air, and the material of which the suit is made, keeps the body warm even in a very cold atmosphere, Mr Merriman attired himself in this dress, which he did while having his ordinary clothing on, proceeded to sea, where he floated with great buoyancy, rising to each succeeding sea in a manner similar to a life boat. He remained in the sea for some considerable time, sustaining himself either in an upright or horizontal position at pleasure. Upon coming out the water and removing his india-rubber suit, his clothes were found to be perfectly dry. Those who witnessed the experiment, expressed highly satisfied with the invention. With such an outfit a shipwrecked man could live in the water for a considerable length of time. After leaving Mr Merriman proceeded to the South Pier, South Shields, where, in the presence of the members the Volunteer Life Brigade and number of other persons, he exhibited his invention.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 14 October 1872

22 October

Miss Raw, bequest seems to have reduced by £5 between iOctober and November.

BEQUESTS BY A SOUTH SHIELDS LADY.—The will of the late Miss Sarah Raw, of Albert Terrace, South Shields, has been proved by the executors, Messrs J. L. Hall and John Firbank. By her will she gives a legacy of £50 to the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade, £50 to the Tyne Lifeboat Fund, £10 10s to the Town and River Mission, £l9 19s to the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Asylum for the Blind, £l9 19s to the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners' Royal Benevolent Society, £10 to the poor of the parish of Barningham, Yorkshire, and £10 to the poor of the parish of Brampton-on-Swale, Yorkshire.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 22 October 1872


The committee of the South Shields Life Brigade acknowledge, with thanks the receipt of the sum of £45 from the executors of the late Miss Raw, and also one guinea from Mr St. John, wine and spirit merchant, Sunderland.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 25 November 1872

23 November

A severe gale caused damage to property in the town as well as the problems in the harbour.

The North-East Coast

On Saturday evening, at about nine o'clock, violent gale from the south-east, accompanied by heavy rain, suddenly swept along the north-east - coast. Storm signals were displayed, a strict look out was kept by the Volunteer Life Brigades on both sides of the entrance to Shields Harbour. The lifeboats were also in readiness.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 25 November 1872


17 December

The Duff came ashore on the Herd Sand. The vessel was too far out for the Brigade to reach her and the crew were rescued by the lifeboat.

18 December

The Gleaner came ashore just further out than the Duff. Again, the Brigade could not reach her and the crew were rescued by the lifeboat.

It has not yet been possible to determine the identity of the Danish schooner involved in this incident.

Narrow Escape of a Schooner
At the Entrance of the Tyne

Shields 1.20 p.m.

At twelve o'clock noon to-day a Danish schooner, the name of which has not presently been ascertained, was seen approaching Shields harbour, and was watched by immense crowd from both sides of the river. She came very well until she reached the Herd Buoy when she was struck the stern by a tremendous sea, which disabled her steering apparatus. The vessel's sails were partly set, and she turned round with her head seawards, but soon wore round again. She now commenced to drift towards the wreck the Eagle and every moment was expected to strike the sand. However, she was not so unfortunate as this. A number of steamboats were plying about, and at one time the vessel was entirely surrounded by them. The Friends got a rope out from the schooner's stern and succeeded in towing her out of her dangerous position, until the tug boat Pilot got a rope out forward. The Friends then slipped her rope, and the Pilot commenced towing away, and brought the vessel safely into the harbour. The lifeboats Northumberland and Turn Perry were both alongside the schooner several times, but the men seemed determined not to leave their ship. The alarm guns were loaded and ready for firing at any moment, and the Tynemouth and South Shields Volunteer Life Brigades were in attendance should their services have been required. For half-an-hour the most intense excitement prevailed, and as soon as the vessel was seen to be out of danger, a blinding shower of rain came on, and the crowds soon dispersed. Another schooner has since arrived in safety.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 18 December 1872